The story of a Tibetan village chief who fled to India with the Dalai Lama

Along with the Dalai Lama, thousands of Tibetans fled to India through the North East Frontier Agency, which became the union territory of Arunachal Pradesh in 1972.

Updated: Sep 21, 2018 09:41:25

By Sutirtho Patranobis

A ‘model torture chamber’ in Kesong. (HT Photo)

Kesong, some 200 km from Arunachal Pradesh, was the first Tibetan village the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) marched into on May 23, 1959, to “emancipate it from serfdom”, says the Communist Party of China narrative.

When villagers from somnolent Kesong stage a play to mark 60 years of the day in 2019, they know who will be the villain of the piece – the then village chief who had, at the first rumblings of liberation and the fear of losing his life, fled to India following the furtive footsteps of the 14th Dalai Lama.

Along with the Dalai Lama, thousands of Tibetans fled to India through the North East Frontier Agency, which became the union territory of Arunachal Pradesh in 1972.

At the no-frills “Patriotism Education Centre”, a bare building which serves as a museum for Kesong’s past life as a village of “Tibetan serfs”, village chief Suokang Wangqing Geli lurks like a criminal whose game is up in a faded black and white photograph.

Wang, the local government-appointed guide, recounted the “centuries of horror” before 1959.

For years, villagers of Kesong had no land, no rights and little to eat, Wang said.

Geli and the likes before him owned much of the land. Villagers who could not pay taxes in cash or kind were tortured. A “model” torture room at the museum has the tools of torture on display: chains, handcuffs, belt and whips.

The villagers had no access to means of production and had no control of their lives, the guide added.

Kesong’s tryst with socialism changed its destiny – the villagers recovered their lives and voices. Within days, the first Communist Party branch was opened in the village.

Tibet was incorporated into China in 1951 but, according to officials accompanying Hindustan Times, “democracy reforms”with Chinese characteristics in villages such as Kesong across Tibet Autonomous Region were carried out in 1959.

Nearly 60 years later, it is one of Tibet’s richer villages with a per capita income of around 17,620 yuan (nearly Rs 1.8 lakh) for its 872 residents in 242 households.

Phurbu Tsering is the head of one such household, which has a prominently displayed photograph of President Xi Jinping in the courtyard. A farmer and a trader, Tsering seemed a contented man.

His two-storey home was stacked with Tibetan artifacts for sale, his prosperity protected by a shrine room for Tibetan Buddhist deities and financial incentives for locals doled out by the government.

“History proved that without the CPC, we would not have the new socialist Tibet, without the CPC, we would not have the Kesong people’s happy lives today,” said a plaque at the exit of the museum.

As for Geli, no one knows what happened to him after he fled to India with his family. “We don’t have any details,” shrugged the guide.

The details needed – and approved -- by the Communist Party are anyway on show at the Patriotism Education Centre.

(HT was in Tibet at the invitation of the State Council Information Office of China.)

First Published: Sep 21, 2018 09:41:09


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